Once again, Arnold Schwarzenegger is outsmarting his California Democrat opponents, and leading the state in the direction of long—needed structural change. The Governator is a brilliant man, a master of strategy and tactics, and possessed of energy, charm, charisma, confidence, good instincts, and wealth beyond the ken of most mortals. Even though Sacramento insiders are beginning to acknowledge his tactical skills, they have not yet grasped the strategic box in which he has placed the Democrats.
The California Democrats, focused on defending their own power and preserving the indefensible status quo in Sacramento, haven't got a chance. The battlefield has been redesigned by Arnold, and they can't even keep up with him, much less grab the initiative. The Democrats are fighting him with Maginot Line strategies, oblivious to the Global Hawk drone quietly circling overhead, ready to send the launch signal to the laser—guided political bombs Arnold will launch. Their accustomed defenses are worthless. They won't even know what hit them until it is too late.
The mini—imbroglio over his usage of the Saturday Night Live expression 'girlie—man' is the latest example of tactical brilliance in service of strategic goals. When Arnold used the expression twice in front a crowd of bargain—hunting middle class folks last Saturday, at the massive Ontario Mills shopping center, mecca for Southern California factory outlet shoppers, he knew exactly what he was doing. The tactic is called 'rope—a—dope.'
The Democrats and their media friends behaved exactly according to his plan: complaining of the 'sexism and homophobia' in his remark. The New York Times reports that its article covering the Governor's remarks was the most—emailed news item of the day, and google listed it as the number one story on the web. So, the entire country immediately focused on a political dispute between the Governator and the Democrats.
Keep in mind that there is plenty of video out there of Saturday Night Live bits featuring Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon as 'Hans and Franz' in their absurd body suits, using the expression 'girlie—man.' Arnold knows this. He knows better than anyone else that they are making fun of him. He also knows that when a story breaks nationally, the television networks will immediately ask themselves, 'Is there some video we can use?' His wife, after all, is a television news pro, working for the very same network in possession of the SNL tapes. Arnold thus knew with moral certainty that within minutes of anyone complaining about his insult, Hans and Franz would be experiencing a comeback.
Now, remember what Hans and Franz look like. Even before they utter the magic phrase, the public is totally clued—in that they are satirizing Arnold. So, when Arnold uses their trademark expression, he is being ironic. Everybody but the Democrats and the New York Times gets it.
There are many sins in American public life these days. But failure to get it about irony is one of the gravest imaginable offences. It brands the miscreant as hopelessly uncool, and so stupid and plodding that no further attention is warranted. The Democrats, bless 'em, grabbed the bait, and for good measure have gobbled down the hook, line, and sinker.
America's television viewers got to see three pieces of videotape in most of the coverage. The first one showed Arnold standing in front of a background that said, 'Join Arnold.' The second showed Hans and Franz. The third showed a spokesman for Democrats, gays, or feminists, fulminating about Arnold. Do they want to 'join' the cool guys, the ironic, handsome, successful likable crowd? Or would they rather emotionally identify with the uncool, harrmumphing, self—righteous crowd, who just don't get it?
But many sophisticated insiders and observers, stuck in a Maginot Line paradigm, simply don't get it, either. They only see Arnold alienating people whose good will he needs to achieve a compromise.
"You can't go kick somebody in the groin and then say, 'Come, let us reason together, come let us do this, let us join hands and sing 'Kumbaya,' " said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D—San Francisco.
"It doesn't work that way in life. It doesn't work that way in politics and it doesn't really work that way in the Capitol.
"I'm hoping that after this weekend's venting and rant, that we may be able to get back to trying to solve the problems of the people of the state of California.
Dan Walters, of the Sacramento Bee, the 'dean of the Capitol press corps' also thinks that Arnold really blew it.
Objectively, it's doubtful whether Schwarzenegger's appearances advance the budget ball and, as Burton suggests, may slow the process even more. Schwarzenegger's leverage on the 2004—05 budget is limited because, by unilaterally raising spending on key social and education programs to please Democrats, he already has given away his bargaining chips.
But, as I pointed out in May, Arnold is playing a much bigger game. The Battle of the California Budget, 2004 edition, is merely the prelude to a thoroughgoing reform of a heavily corrupt, entrenched, dysfunctional state government. The Governator has openly spoken of 'blowing up the boxes' in Sacramento —— fundamentally restructuring the state government, consolidating and closing state agencies, contracting out government services to low bidders in the private sector, and thereby inflicting intense pain on state employees and their unions, the tort bar, entrenched vendors to state agencies, and the California Democratic Party, among others.
And Arnold has a Plan.
There is no possibility that these special interests will ever compromise their way to powerlessness and oblivion. As Arnold said the same day as the girlie man gambit, at another mall in Stockton, they are "dug in" at the Capitol "like Alabama ticks, and we cannot get rid of them." To win the Big Picture game, Arnold must lure them into putting their resources into a political Maginot sink hole, and expending their ammunition before the real battle has begun.
Right now, the state lacks a budget. Within the budget are a number of items on which compromise between Democrats and the Governator has not been reached. Here's how the Bee's Dan Walters sees it:
Democrats believe that despite his tough—guy rhetoric, Schwarzenegger is fundamentally a softie on spending and more concerned with getting a budget — any budget — passed than in confronting them. And the record so far would support their belief. The budget that he's willing, even eager, to accept would continue high deficits and thus make it more likely that he will accede to Democratic demands for higher taxes in the near future.
Can Schwarzenegger salvage something from what has been so far a political debacle? Yes, but only if he's willing to make good on his original pledge to set aside "politics as usual" and put California's fiscal house in order. By giving ground on spending — about $3 billion — since January, the governor may have destroyed any chance to balance the budget without new taxes in future years, even if the economy continued to recover smartly.
Because Arnold has already failed to live up to his promise to get a state budget passed on time, he appears to have lost a battle. By compromising with the Democrats, he has demonstrated weakness, and given up his ammunition. But this is Maginot Line thinking.
Arnold's plan is, and always has been, to use the California Constitution's provisions for voter initiative, recall, and referendum power. He has already demonstrated that he can get voters to turn out and pass such measures, based on his personal backing, sending two ballot measures restructuring the state debt from way behind in the polls to smashing electoral victories.
But to assure his electoral triumph on a much more ambitious agenda of reform measures, he needs to get the Democrats and their media allies to discredit themselves even further than they already have. He needs to portray them as not just intransigent, corrupted by special interests, and dedicated to business as usual. He needs to make them appear —— this is California, remember —— uncool, so that people will dismiss their objections even before they hear them. They are going to start slinging some heavy rhetoric, when the issue involves laying off overpaid state workers and replacing them with private contractors.
As matters now stand, responsibility for the looming budget crisis in California will land squarely on the Democrats. Arnold has very visibly compromised with them, over and over again. He has dined with them, invited them to his home for dinner with Maria and the family, and famously smoked cigars with them. He has even joshed them, in a self—deprecating ironic mode. And they don't get it.
But California voters do, and they will later this year, when Arnold—sponsored ballot measures face them. Just watch.